MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota health officials reported 2,500 new infections on Thursday as more infectious variants of the coronavirus drive case growth across the state. The new cases mark the highest single-day total since January as the state was coming down from the surge in infections cases late last year.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported 14 more people have died due to COVID-19 in addition to the 2,535 new virus cases, bringing the state's totals to 6,922 deaths and 535,182 since the start of the pandemic last year. Hospitalizations have climbed alongside cases, with 565 patients in Minnesota hospitals due to the coronavirus, including 131 in intensive care.
Health officials have expressed concern regarding the steady rise in cases and hospitalizations, citing a growing seven-day test positivity rate that indicates community transmission of the virus. Minnesota ranks ninth in the nation in new cases per capita with nearly 430 new infections per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks, according to data compiled by Johnson Hopkins researchers.
State epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said during a media briefing Thursday that the state estimates 50% to 60% of infections are due to the variants, particularly the variant first detected in Britain. Health officials are also finding more cases of the variant first detected in California, which has been found to be fueling other clusters in the state.
“Our message regarding the variants is that they are spreading, and we need to continue to be careful while more Minnesotans get vaccinated,” Lynfield said.
As cases continue to increase, officials hope the state's efforts to vaccinate populations more susceptible to the virus will prevent a significant spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. More than 3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered as of Tuesday, with about 1.9 million Minnesotans having received at least one dose, and more than 1.2 million fully vaccinated.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday that while the state is planning to increase outreach and education efforts about the vaccine, officials aren't yet seeing hesitancy impact the state's vaccination progress as demand still outpaces supply.
“In general, we still have a lot of people eager to get the vaccine and we hope that that eagerness frankly continues and people do get vaccinated just as soon as they have the opportunity to do so,” Malcolm said. “We really do consider this a race against time and against the variants.”